| Rehearsal Diary

Week Five

Monday 14th November 2022

As we head into our final week, we know that we are in a good place in terms of progress, but there is always more work to be done so that our technical rehearsals can run smoothly and, hopefully, at a good pace. 

To aid this, we started today by working through the quick costume changes that take place on stage while our designer, Peter McKintosh, and Costume Supervisor, Yvonne Milnes, watched. We were able to do the changes, mostly involving Emma and Deborah Findlay, within the time necessary to accompany the action, and both Peter and Yvonne were able to make useful suggestions and alterations to the costumes that mean we can make these changes look even more slick and effortless. We discovered that one of the costume changes is so quick it will require some additional text written by Neil to help cover it. Apparently, there had been a version of the play that was longer in this particular scene, so Michael is sure it will be relatively simple to do. This was such a useful exercise that we have decided to do the same this week for all the off-stage costume changes too, so we have an idea of how quick they are, which hopefully means we can work at pace during the tech.

After this costume call, we brought the rest of the company into the rehearsal room and started working through the play from the top of the show. We are calling this work a ‘stagger through’, which means we can stop and start to address certain elements that Michael feels requires work, but we will run sections together if we get into a flow.

We made good progress and identified a few areas where we can cut a little more time in the movement sections. For the last hour of rehearsals, Michael had an interview for a newspaper so I ran the final sections of the play. As Associate Director it is good to be given these times to ‘run the room’ as it starts acting as a handover of responsibilities from director to associate. Once the show is up and running, it is the associate who will stay with it, keeping an eye on both the production and the company.

Tuesday 15th November 2022

Today was our first runthrough. Michael suggested that before each run the company do a group warm-up, which is led by one of the cast. This morning Oliver Wickham, who plays one of the Virginias and various other parts, ran a physical warm-up, which involved yoga sun salutations and stretches. Jodi McNee then led a vocal warm-up and Lucy Briers ended with a group exercise that we think we might do before each runthrough, maybe even before each show. The company stand in a circle, bent at the waist, with arms stretched out in front of them and heads down so as not to see one another. At any point, one of them can make a ‘Ha!’ sound, exhaling air sharply by pulling from the diaphragm. As soon as one of them does this, the rest of the company must do the same – the aim being for it to be as quick a reaction as possible. They did this three times and with each attempt the gap between the first person making the sound and the company following became smaller and smaller.

We then did a run mainly for ourselves but also with one of the producers from MGC present. It went very smoothly and we were able to see the areas that clearly need work. After the runthrough, Michael gave some brief notes before lunch and we made a list of areas to look at before the second run tomorrow.

The main thing we discovered was that the show doesn’t feel like it needs an interval. We felt that it got into a flow and, running it all together, the show time would be about one hour twenty minutes, which still feels like a comfortable length without a break. This would mean we’d need to change a few things in the text and look again at some things that get taken off-stage plus exits, but all details that could be worked out in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday 16th November 2022

We started today with another warm-up. This time the physical one was led by Akuc Bol, who did a fun dance exercise, followed by Richard Cant, who ran a vocal warm-up. The company also did the circle ‘Ha!’ exercise again, which is already becoming more synchronized. We then continued with a runthrough, this time with writer Neil Bartlett watching. It can be quite a nerve-wracking experience bringing the writer back into the room towards the end of the rehearsal process, as there is the hope they feel we have served their words well but always the anxiety that maybe we’ve steered away from their original intentions. However, Neil was welcomed back into the room with such warmth, and having spent the first week with him we knew we couldn’t have strayed too far from the path he had laid out for us with his words.

It is a fascinating relationship to negotiate between writer and director, plus the performers, as the writer has lived with the play much longer than anyone else in that triangle and they will have seen it in their mind’s eye and heard it in their head many times over. Once it passes over to a room of creative minds that includes actors, designers, directors, it will inevitably take on other shapes, tones, rhythms, nuances that the writer may never have imagined. What was once so personal to them now has new owners. Some speak metaphorically of entrusting their baby’s care to a childminder. I liken it to owning a piece of clothing – a jacket that is well looked after, personalised to fit its owner, that has seen many seasons and held together well, but maybe the owner has outgrown it or wants others to experience the same love they had for it. So it’s passed on to a secondhand shop, where it catches the eye of an admirer who also loves it as much as the first owner but maybe makes it their own by adding, say, a brooch, or adjusting the sleeves, or pairing it with a jazzy scarf – maybe not what its original owner would have done, but it suits its new owner nonetheless and it works. It now becomes that person’s favourite item in their wardrobe and they’d be hard-pressed to be told how else to wear it.

Styling the production involves many minds and opinions and it can feel very personal, so at this stage in the rehearsal process there is a whole new element of collaboration and facilitation involved. That said, Neil seemed very happy with how we had ‘styled’ his ‘well-loved jacket’ and was quite emotional seeing it worn by our company for the first time. He said he felt the play was in safe hands and that we were in a really good place. He appreciated that we had more work we wanted to do with it but felt confident we had time to address those things.

Michael and Neil then had lunch together and discussed notes. Neil didn’t write any down in the first runthrough as he wanted to watch the show as if he were a new audience member, so he just passed on a few small things to Michael regarding some lines he wanted to change or add. Tomorrow he will watch again and probably write down more specific comments. In the afternoon Michael gave his notes to the company and we worked through areas that he wanted to address. 

Thursday 17th November 2022

This morning the warm-up was led by Richard Ryder, our Dialect Coach. Jess Alade then ran a game of ‘Zip, Zap, Boing!’, which involves the company standing in a circle and passing a clap or ‘Zip!’ around the circle, a ‘Boing!’ to block it and a ‘Zap!’ to throw it across the circle. We then ended, as is now tradition, with our ‘Ha!’ exercise. I have been taking videos of each of these to see how much closer the company gets to a synchronized ‘Ha!’.

We then ran the play again with Neil Bartlett watching, plus Movement Director Ben Wright. It felt like some of the adrenaline from the previous runthrough had worn off a little and the company felt more comfortable in the running of the play. This was good as one of our pieces of feedback from the writer and others in the room was that it went quite quickly yesterday, so we knew we could take our time today over certain moments, particularly the establishing of the relationship with the audience at the start of the play.

After lunch, Michael gave notes to the company while various people had to dip-out for wig fittings. Then Ben reworked several of the movement moments, including the arrival of the debutantes, the ‘Fan Dance’ – which has basically been cut – and Constantinople. This took up much of the afternoon, plus a few other small moments Michael wanted to address from his notes.

Our original plan was to run the play again tomorrow morning and work notes in the afternoon, but we felt that our time would be better spent staggering through the play as a whole once more and working notes here and there. We still have two days next week to do more runthroughs before going into technical rehearsals, so we don’t feel we’re losing anything by doing this and, in fact, will gain more and learn a lot. It’s also great that Ben will be around again tomorrow to help work through anything we feel may need more movement attention.

Friday 18th November 2022

The last day of a full-on week and everyone is in great spirits. We had a lot of fiddly work to do today with small changes being made, which required a lot of concentration, but having a few runs under our belt meant we felt like all this detail was just the delicious icing on the cake. We also go into the weekend with the knowledge that we still have next Monday and Tuesday to do any more finessing and further runthroughs.

We made the transition between where the interval originally was and where the second act begins more seamless, as it still felt like we were dipping in energy there. We also looked at how we could squeeze a bit more wit out of certain moments as there is so much in the script we feel we can capitalise upon.

For the last hour of the day I was able to work with Ben again on some understudy moments, such as when Orlando falls into the arms of Marmaduke. Since Oliver Wickham, who’s understudying Orlando, and Emma are quite different builds we wanted to make sure, before we got into the theatre, that the lifts involved were still comfortable and safe for those taking part. Of course, Oliver is excellent and made it all look effortless, so very little adjustment or work was needed. I also looked at the Harriet and Orlando scene with both Oliver and Richard Cant, who plays Harriet. It’s incredibly useful to start integrating the covers with the principal actors as soon as possible so that they feel happy and secure playing their character opposite a different actor should the occasion arise.

Today was also the day for flu jabs for those company members who wanted them. It’s so important that we protect our company in every way possible before getting into the theatre so that we can ensure a safe and smooth run of the show in the months to come.

Saturday 19th November 2022

Today I was gifted the opportunity of working with the understudies for four hours with the aim of getting to the end of the play before we get into the theatre next week.

We spent the first hour working with Ben Wright on intimacy, as it’s important that the cover company get the same attention when working in this area as the principal actors. This can sometimes be overlooked in productions due to time and availability of the Movement/Intimacy Director, but we are fortunate that Ben recognises the importance of creating a safe environment for all involved. It’s a little unusual working separately with the covers and principals on intimacy as the likelihood is that a cover will go on stage opposite a principal actor, but Ben makes sure a language of consent is established with each actor, which means if ever that moment arises they are on the same page in terms of how to address those intimate moments and communicating about it beforehand.

After Ben did a little more work on the debutantes’ arrival, as some cuts had been made earlier in the week, we pushed on through the play and made great progress, working out tracks that would need to be covered as we went. We almost made it to the end with only ten pages left to go! Hopefully we will get a little time at the end of Monday to finish the play.